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Last chance for Assange in extradition battle

WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange is facing the latest stage of his lengthy battle against extradition to Sweden over rape allegations. Legal experts say this may well be the final round.

Julian Assange

Julian Assange was arrested in London in December 2010

On Wednesday, WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange enters the latest stage of his long battle against extradition to Sweden over rape allegations. The two-day hearing is being held at England's highest court, the Supreme Court in London.

If the court rejects the appeal case, the 40-year-old Australian national will have exhausted all his legal options in the UK, though he could still make a last-ditch appeal to the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) in Strasbourg.

"He's certainly nearing the end of the road," Chief Executive of Fair Trials International, Jago Russell, told Deutsche Welle. "He will have gone as far as he can in terms of the British courts, and he may well then make an application to the ECHR, but it's very rare indeed for the ECHR to consider extraditions between EU countries, and they almost never put an extradition on hold while they're waiting to make their decision."

Lengthy legal battle

Assange was arrested in London in December 2010, after two women in Sweden came forward with allegations of rape, sexual molestation and coercion. They had met Assange when he gave a lecture in Stockholm in August 2010. Interpol issued a wanted notice for Assange in late November of the same year.

Julian Assange outside the High Court in London

This may be the end of the road for Assange in the British court system

Assange strongly denies the allegations and insists the sex was consensual. He claims the complaints against him are politically motivated and in response to WikiLeaks' publication of hundreds of thousands of classified US documents relating to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, as well as diplomatic cables.

But Jago Russell dismisses the conspiracy theories that the Swedish trial is nothing more than a "holding case" while the US files for his extradition to face charges over the leaks.

"The idea that it's going to be easier to extradite him from Sweden to the United States than it would be to extradite him directly from [the UK] to the United States I find quite a difficult one," he said.

Assange's extradition to Sweden was initially approved by a lower British court in February. His appeal to the High Court was rejected in November, but he was subsequently granted permission to appeal to the Supreme Court. It said his case raised an issue of "great public importance," namely whether Sweden's state prosecutor had the right to sign the European arrest warrant under which he was held.

In Sweden, the discussion has focused more on the women at the center of the allegations than on Assange himself.

"The biggest difference was that here in Sweden the discussion came to be not about Julian Assange or a demonstration against him - not at all - but it sparked a discussion about what kind of words we have to communicate in our sexual relations with people, what kind of gender roles do we have," said Sonja Schwarzenberger, a Swedish journalist who was closely involved in the public debate.

Celebrity status

Following his arrest in the UK, Assange was released on bail. He has since been staying at the country mansion of a wealthy supporter in the east of England.

A woman reads the WikiLeaks site

Wikileaks has released hundreds of thousands of classified documents

Recently, Assange was even able to record material from the UK for a forthcoming guest appearance on the US cartoon show, "The Simpsons." He will appear in what will be the show's 500th anniversary episode in late February. In the episode, the Simpson family - Homer, Marge, Bart, Lisa and Maggie - leave their hometown of Springfield and move to an isolated area, where they find themselves living next door to Julian Assange, who plays himself.

As Jago Russell points out, the bail conditions that permit such media appearances may well change if he is extradited to Sweden.

"There's been a lot of coverage about the fact that he's been granted bail in the United Kingdom and he's been living in this manor house on the Suffolk-Norfolk border. Sweden's very different in that Sweden very rarely grants bail to suspects at all," Russell explained. "Although they prosecute crimes quite quickly, they normally keep people in pre-trial detention. So it's very unlikely that following his extradition Mr. Assange would be granted bail."

Last week, Assange announced that he would be launching his own television chat show in the spring. Russian state television channel RT (Russia Today) said it would broadcast the weekly episodes.

"This Russian chat show idea - it might be quite difficult for him to do that from his prison cell in Sweden," said Russell.

Author: Joanna Impey
Editor: Gabriel Borrud

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